While the kings of Prog were ruling America by storm by bringing Pomp and Circumstance to giant stadiums and Arena Rock to a standstill to a kind of Epic and Suite sounds that would have audiences enjoy or sleep through in the ‘70s, Gentle Giant’s back catalogue is an itch on people’s head thinking ‘What the hell is this?’ and remains affective to the Pompous sounds of ELP and Yes. Different time signature in a way that some of the Prog Rock names weren’t doing, this unbelievable band made the music sound they recorded it in the 15th century in France. For example, there are the four albums that have been digitally re-mastered of Derek Shulman’s company, DRT, of the band’s cult following could have been bigger than King Crimson. These albums are a sonic tour de force, magnificent, and weird at the same time, performing with changes in the music, and a flash of light that gets the flowing water rumbling with new bands discovering the music of Gentle Giant’s career as much as wearing Wizard’s clothes or Gabriel’s shaved-head in a weird way in Genesis.
As with; Gentle Giant, Acquiring the Taste, Three Friends, and Octopus which featured the oldest of the Shulman brothers, Ray who left the band due to differences with Derek and Phil, the band were now a five-piece band with the release of their fifth album, In a Glass House released in 1973, where the band let loose of their violent energy numbers as Phil and Derek Shulman alongside guitarist Gary Green, drummer John Weathers, and keyboardist Kerry Minnear, brought the race track going high voltage. Beginning with the clustering and shattering devices of 15th century tea sets with The Runaway that makes it the steady rhythm section where Derek is singing about a man running away from the law and becoming a fugitive on the run in a fast section that is unbelievable while An Inmates Lullaby features the pounding percussion with xylophone, timpani, as the group’s singing fills the void with classical take of the prisoner dreams of being free.
Way of Life, is their piss take of parodying Symphonic Orchestral Rock meets Jazz Fusion in a huge changes in the time signatures as if they were paying tribute to the Mahavishnu Orchestra ala Inner Mounting Flame-era district as they have dreamland material go buck wild with the complexual track, Experience with defining keyboard solo, wah-wah guitar licks and the bass doing a Jaco Pastorious walking line as if the metronome was ticking very fast with the instruments going race-car style, it’s a compound rhythm beat, but it’s damn good as it leaves room for more with the 8-minute title track.
It has a pastoral symphony Weather Report sound with acoustic guitar along with the cello and violin as Kerry sings very passionate almost as he sang it as they waltz to the beat in perfect harmony as the choir brings the Glass House to a standstill while the bonus tracks of the live versions of The Runaway/Experience and In a Glass House recorded in Dusseldorf in 1974 and 1976 at the time they were promoting the album and Interview in which I’ll get to later in the review, shows Gentle Giant’s power of electricity now with magnitude than ever. Proving that the band was like hell on wheels of in and out of the studio sessions, it is quite unbelievable on how these five musicians can take the music into a new direction. The proof is in 1974’s The Power and the Glory.
Moving away from the Octopus-era, this saw the band going into a Funk Jazz Rock sound that was good of Gentle Giant’s image, alongside more of the excitement helping the group to produce basic elements for more complex intensity and creating moral force of the changes moving tooth and nail. This construction definitely again helped the band’s career, as featured on the dance beat tempo sounds of the multi-layered electric piano groove of the crazed opener, Proclamation while So Sincere shows their sense of humor of paying tribute to the Canterbury scene. Aspirations is Kerry Minnear’s acoustical calmness breathtaking beauty as he sings with astonishment as Derek Shulman lets him shines through about looking back through the days growing up as a young men to discover the dreams he has to make it big while Playing The Game which starts off very Japanese-like intro with the synthesized bass and the telephone going on, is very weird.
It’s a great number as it has lot of artistic work as guitarist Gary Green does a Fripp/Steve Howe style on the guitar which is featured on each time Derek sings the lyrics. As this is going on, Kerry comes in the midsection has a small part to have his calm-like vocals as Ray Shulman comes in with the explosive bass line while Kerry does some heavy duty keyboard solo which has a Herbie Hancock Headhunters feel to it as it finishes the song with the Japanese Rock flavor to it. The fast-sped composition, Cogs in Cogs, which has become a live favorite among the GG fans, showing the arranging mastermind to direct the vocals along with Derek, Ray, Gary, and Kerry singing together in this baroque symphonic time shifting killing track.
No God’s a Man is a deeply classical track as the vocals again have extended in partial time shifts, has given the concept of the aggregation state of people living in the subways, showing their own situations in how a great hero can quickly become an anti-hero and have the people be turned against you and form a political revolution to tear the bad guy into bits and pieces while The Face is an homage to the New Orleans Jazz scene as if it was recorded today with more of the heavy fusion to the mix ala Gentle Giant style. Green is back with vengeance on the guitar as he goes up and down the frets as the song deals with the utopian mastermind has gone to hell, but lets the people that everything is okay and not to worry about it. The midsection, the instrumental is a fucking tour de force! Again it’s Gary, but the band is doing the homage to the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s road-runner track, The Noonward Race ala Baroque style.
What can I say about Valedictory? Gentle Giant goes Deep Purple! This heavy classical metal right here as Derek sings like if he’s Ian Gillan as the band do a lot of changes while the lyrics of the man is helping the people who are starting the revolution, pleading them to stop and letting them know that he’ll change his way. Seems very Ayn Rand like as the band go faster to close the track with a fast-forward tape sound which is anti-climatic. Of course, Bonus Track of the live version Proclamation, which was recorded for a German TV program to promote Power and the Glory, shows the band revealing their symphonic taste of heavy rock.
While Power and the Glory was a magnetic concept album of the rise and fall of a Utopian city, Free Hand, which has become an essential prog rock masterpiece among their fans, is heavy influenced of the Fantasy and the classical antiquity of the Italian Renaissance movement from 500 to 1430 AD. It was also their American hit on the top 50 from the Billboard charts to crack the big time. The classics keep on coming with the elastic and rough exuberant introduction of Just The Same, the medieval a-cappella turned story telling beauty of folklore singing to the king and queen in the English castle with On Reflection.
The title track which starts off with Minnear’s keyboard introduction that has an Art Tatum then turned into a twisted keyboard riff and strange chords that he would do as the band comes in to do a syncopated hard rock meets jazz fusion taste that is a tribute to Return to Forever. Time to Kill is very quirky while His Last Voyage which has a Jaco bass line again done by Ray Shulman, is very medieval in a 14th century way. As for the homage to Gryphon’s Red Queen To Gryphon Three with the renaissance turned heavy tempo sounds of King Arthur with Talybont, the final track Mobile is a Gentle Giant as anyone can participate to listening to.
Now with only seven albums to make the fans worth the while to see what the band Gentle Giant would do next, it would be a big interesting idea for them to do a concept album with their eighth album, Interview released in 1976. With the album which is the group doing a fake interview for a journalist, a not bad but good idea, it features some amazing centerpieces in the bouncy number of the opening title track, the reggae-twisted cliché of Give It Back, the mind-boggling dancing early new wave sound of Another Show, the a-cappella vocals which were used in the opening with Knots, they do it again with Design as it becomes an Avant-Garde freak out number with the percussions going fucking apeshit, and the timeless beauty of the closer, I Lost My Head. Even though the band split up in 1980 after their train had slowed down with Civilian, it definitely has interesting pieces of the puzzle that should new generation of fans are discovering this unbelievable band and their weirdest and timeless masterpieces to come.
Have a nice cup of tea with Gentle Giant and take a lot of big steps to see what the Giant was listening to.